Poor Bear still waiting for justice

Published Tuesday June 2, 2009

Ten years after his brother and cousin were found beaten to death on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Tom Poor Bear is once again preparing to march in their memory.

The annual March for Justice, set for June 13, is to remind people of Wilson “Wally” Black Elk Jr. and Ron Hard Heart, along with other Native Americans whose murders remain unsolved.

“I made a commitment I wouldn’t walk away from their spirits,” said Poor Bear, whose brother Wally and cousin Ron were found in a field between Whiteclay, Neb., and Pine Ridge on June 8, 1999. “We’re going to keep marching until justice is found.”

Bob Perry, supervisory special agent for the FBI, would love to see that day, as well.

“It’s not a case we’ve forgotten,” he said. “We’re just trying to develop new leads. The more time passes, the tougher it gets.”

When the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights met here in December 1999, discussions focused on poor communications and relations between the FBI and Native Americans. According to the FBI, there have been changes since then.

“The FBI has put more of a focus on the violent crime that exists in Indian Country in South Dakota,” Perry said, and on victims of those crimes. “They’re not your average burglary victim. We’re talking victims of physical assaults, sexual assaults, that type of thing.”

The bureau now has five victim specialists in the state, including one in Rapid City and two in Pierre, to maintain contact with and assist crime victims and witnesses. Also, federal law now requires that victims be notified if an arrest is made, whether an investigation is opened or closed, and if other developments come about.

Those victim specialists have been invaluable, not only by helping to keep victims informed about cases but also by helping educate people about how the federal judicial system works. “And they have been able to create connections with various other social services programs on the reservations that we probably didn’t do a real good job communicating with in the past,” said Perry, who came to South Dakota in 2003.

But in Poor Bear’s view, communication hasn’t improved much. He said he and others have passed on numerous tips to the authorities, and he is frustrated that there still hasn’t been an arrest in the deaths of his brother and cousin.

“I don’t feel they’re using all the resources they have to do this case, to solve it,” he said. “If it was two white people that were found there, this state and the state of Nebraska would have been swarming with (FBI). They probably would have solved it.”

Poor Bear would like to see a special team of investigators assigned to the case, and he believes Nebraska agencies should also be involved.

“I hope it don’t turn into an Anna Mae Aquash case, where we have to wait 28 years,” Poor Bear said, referring to the fact that no one was indicted for Aquash’s 1975 murder until 2003. “I don’t know if I’ll last that long. I would like to see justice for my brother and my cousin.”

Perry would, too. “We don’t have many cases that stay open that long here in South Dakota,” he said. “We have a few. But that’s one that is frustrating, to not find some closure on that case.”

Anyone with information on the murders can call Perry at 343-9632.

Contact Heidi Bell Gease at 394-8419 or heidi.bell@rapidcityjournal.com

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